Research Programme

Female-Breadwinner Families in Europe

Agnese Vitali

This project is funded under the ESRC Future Research Leaders scheme.

Project summary


Despite the increase of female-breadwinner families in developed countries (families in which women are the sole or main income provider), little is known about who these couples are, how and why they emerge, and what trends in female breadwinning mean for women, men and children.

This project aims to answer such questions and in so doing will contribute to the debate on gender, money and the distribution of power between men and women in couples. The project will have three main aims:

1. To provide an overview of the changing prevalence of female-breadwinner families over time and across European countries and regions

2. To examine the drivers leading to the emergence of female-breadwinner families

3. To examine the implications of the emergence of female-breadwinner families by studying a series of social and demographic outcomes relating to the lives of women, men and their children.


This research makes use of international datasets allowing for cross-national comparisons, including the Luxembourg Income Study, the European Social Survey and the International Social Survey Programme, as well as longitudinal data for the UK, including Understanding Society and the Millennium Cohort Study. 


Project activities

Date Activity Description
23 January 2017 Seminar presented as part of the University of Oxford Department of Sociology Seminar Series. The paper "Female-breadwinner families in Europe" was presented by Agnese Vitali.
8-10 February 2016 Presentation at the AISP Popdays 2017 conference held in Florence, Italy. The paper "Why pool resources in marriage? A study on the choice of matrimonial property regime in Italy", co Authored by Agnese Vitaly is to be presented at this event.
6 December 2016 Presentation at the "Understanding population change in Europe and China: Sharing research experiences for policy development" event held at the University of Southampton. Agnese Vitali presented the paper "Female breadwinners in Europe."
3 November 2016 Key note presentation at the Momketing conference held in Milan Agnese Vitali presented the keynote speech titled "Identikit of Italian mothers (and families)"
22-24 September 2016 Presentation at the European Consortium for Sociological Research (ECSR) 2016 Conference held at the University of Oxford. Agnese Vitali presented paper "Who brings home the bacon? The influence of context on partners' contributions to the household income" co-authored by Bruno Arpino.
12-14 September 2016 Presentation at the British Society for Population Conference held in Winchester. Agnese Vitali presented the paper "The educational gradient in resource pooling across native and foreign-born spouses in Italy" co-authored by Romina Fraboni
31 August - 3 September 2016 Presentations at the European Population Conference held in Mainz, Germany.

Agnese Vitali presented the following papers at the event:

1) Partners’ relative incomes and fertility intentions with Maria Rita Testa.

2) The educational gradient in matrimonial property regime among Italian and foreign spouses with Romina Fraboni.

3) Women’s economic dependency and the transition to marriage with Jennifer Holland.

4 May 2016 QSS Seminar held at the UCL Institute of Education. Agnese Vitali presented the paper "Who brings home the bacon? The influence of context on partners' contributions to the household income."
8 March 2016 Initial Brainstorming Workshop Project's advisory board meeting held at the Royal Geographical Society, London.
2-4 December 2015 Presentation at the 'Conference on education and reproduction in low-fertility settings' held in Vienna. The poster "Partners' relative incomes and fertility intentions" by Agnese Vitali and Maria Rita Testa was presented at this event.
30 April - 2 May 2015 Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America held in San Diego. Agnese Vitali presented the paper "Who Brings Home the Bacon? The Influence of Context" which was co authored by Bruno Arpino at this event.



Vitali, A. and Arpino, B. (2016) Who brings home the bacon? The influence of context on partners' contributions to the household income. Demographic Research, 35 (41), 1213-1244.

Vitali, A. and Fraboni, R. (2016) Why pool resources in marriage? A study on the choice of matrimonial property. CPC Working Paper 79, ESRC Centre for Population Change, UK.

Vitali, A. and Mendola, D. (2014). Women as main earners in Europe. CPC Working Paper 56, ESRC Centre for Population Change, UK.



The geography of female-breadwinner and equal-income couples in Europe. IUSSP online news magazine, 28 November 2016

Identikit of moms 2.0: always connected, they decide (and sometimes pay) for the whole family. Dlifestyle, 9 November 2016.

Who are the new female breadwinners? The Conversation, 26 October 2015 

Donne breadwinner: tra opportunità e necessità economica. La 27ma Ora, Corriere della Sera, 29 May 2015 (in Italian) 

Video-Interview on female breadwinners, Population Europe Interfaces, 19 August 2015 

You can also browse all CPC media outputs and population-related articles from CPC members on our! page.